My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

Studio Ghibli’s first full digital animation is a light-hearted and free-spirited take on urban family life told in humorous, sometimes fantastical, vignettes that are created in a minimalist watercolour style.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. Isao Takahata
1999 | Japan | Animation/Comedy/Family | 104 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
G (passed clean)
for mild thematic elements

Cast: Yukiji Asaoka, Toru Masuoka, Masako Araki
Plot: The life and misadventures of a family in contemporary Japan.
Awards:
Source: Studio Ghibli

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Vignette-Style
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No


Not quite reaching the level of aesthetical sophistication as most other Studio Ghibli movies, Isao Takahata’s My Neighbours the Yamadas can be forgiven for being the first full digital animation that the famed studio ever produced. 

At once a technical experiment of sorts and also a step forward into what was then the brave new world of CG animation, yet one cannot deny how creative an artist Takahata was despite the limitations of the technology. 

A light-hearted and free-spirited take on urban family life, My Neighbours the Yamadas is one of Ghibli’s most life-affirming films, centering on one family’s daily preoccupations told in numerous short vignettes that often end with a quote of wisdom by Basho, the most famous poet of Japan’s Edo period. 

“The reason the Yamadas get along fine is because all three adults are nuts. If one of you were normal it would unbalance the rest.”

Takahata finds humour in the family’s peculiarities as father, mother, son, daughter, and grandmother try to live and navigate the joys and sadness of life together. 

In a minimalist watercolour style, the film sometimes employs sequences which are best described as ‘flights of fantasy’ that part way with reality into the realm of imagination, and this is where Takahata’s creative storytelling abilities are most conspicuously realised. 

Family is everything, and My Neighbours the Yamadas sums it all up with the ‘Que Sera Sera’ song, sung in Japanese in the finale, in what could possibly be one of the most uplifting moments in all of Ghibli’s movies. 

While it isn’t as great as Takahata’s two early masterpieces—Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and Only Yesterday (1991)—My Neighbours the Yamadas deserves more recognition.

Grade: B+


Trailer:

Music:

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this up. Studio Ghibli’s productions are some of my favourite bits of cinema, even the ones that were not successful or did not hit the high bar. They are like comfort cinema.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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